herald

Tuesday 19 September 2017

How Times Square bomb 'plotter' blew huge hole in America's airport security

FLIGHT DRAMA: Suspect was sitting on plane, set for take-off, when officials spotted his name on list

FUGITIVE Faisal Shahzad made a mockery of America's no-fly list, boarding a plane bound for Dubai before agents caught up with him.

Although under surveillance since mid- afternoon, he managed to elude investigators and head to the airport for the Emirates flight.

The night's events, gradually coming to light, underscored the flaws in the nation's aviation security system, which despite its technologies, lists and information sharing, often comes down to someone making a right call.

As federal agents closed in, Shahzad was aboard Emirates Flight 202.

He reserved a ticket on the way to John F Kennedy International Airport, paid cash on arrival and walked through security without being stopped.



LAWLESS

By the time Customs and Border Protection officials, using a no-fly list updated earlier in the day, spotted Shahzad's name on the passenger list and recognised him as the bombing suspect they were looking for, he was in his seat and the plane was preparing to leave the gate.

It did not. At the last minute, the pilot was notified, the jetliner's door was opened and Shahzad was taken into custody.

After authorities pulled Shahzad off the plane, he admitted he was behind the crude Times Square car bomb, officials said.

He also claimed to have been trained at a terror camp in Pakistan's lawless tribal region of Waziristan, according to court documents.

That raised increased concern that the bombing was an international terror plot. Shahzad, a Pakistani-born US citizen, was charged yesterday with terrorism and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction in Saturday evening's failed Times Square bombing.

According to a federal complaint, he confessed to buying an SUV, rigging it with a homemade bomb and driving it into the busy area where he tried to detonate it.

Shahzad had been under constant watch at his Bridgeport, Connecticut, home since 3pm on Monday and US federal authorities had planned to arrest him there that evening, two people familiar with the investigation said.

Authorities believe he decided to flee after being spooked by news reports that investigators were seeking a Pakistani suspect in Connecticut, one of the people said.

Shahzad somehow lost the investigators who were trailing him, the two people said. The FBI and the New York Police Department declined to comment.

The Obama administration played down that Shahzad had made it aboard the plane.



LION

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano would not talk about it, other than to say customs officials prevented the plane from taking off.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the security system had fallback procedures in place for times like this, and they worked. And Attorney General Eric Holder said he "was never in any fear that we were in danger of losing him".

Authorities today released a chart showing the car bomb packed into the SUV left in Times Square near a theatre showing the Lion King.

It showed three 20-gallon propane tanks, two five-gallon petrol cans, a metal gun locker and two clocks behind the front seats of the Toyota Pathfinder left in the tourist hotspot.

Police said if the bomb had gone off, it would have caused widespread injury and possibly deaths.

hnews@herald.ie

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